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Susan Shapiro Barash

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Friendship Advice: Leaving that Old Friend Behind?

Posted: 06/17/10 06:44 PM ET

As many of us know too well, parting ways with a friend can be so harsh and painful that we go to great lengths to avoid the experience.

And the older we get, the harder it seems to cut the ties, ironically, as if we haven't learned a lesson or two along the way. Even those of us who have endured a few disappointing love affairs and claim that we've seen it all can be squeamish when it comes to ending an unhappy friendship. It isn't that we don't recognize what an old friend does wrong (and has been doing wrong for a number of years) or that her present version of the same old behavior isn't obvious, but rather that taking the final step feels like self destruction. So while a break up when you're 21 can be miserable (the two of you might have been friends since kindergarten), the same situation at 41 or 51 can be torture. Forget that the breakup, especially between female friends, is usually over a serious matter, and was a long time in the making -- the fall out is what trails on. No wonder we avoid a schism with a friend, no matter that the friendship has been on the fritz or that she's double crossed you.

A major issue among long standing friends -- at every age -- is that there is a shared history. The concept is significant in today's world, as if to say -- "not only did we know each other back in the day, but we understood one another". According to many women, this provides a compelling reason to stick it out, despite the negatives. Perhaps you started at the same company ten or twenty years ago, or your sons were in little league together, or your divorces were finalized at the same time and you faced the single world as a pair. Perhaps you were the maid of honor at your friend's first wedding and your daughter was the flower girl at her second wedding. Or, more riveting than any of the above, perhaps this very friend is the "it girl" and your entire social life, since college, has revolved around her. What a relief to have someone like this in the mix, despite the fact that she's been flirting with your new squeeze or just stole the best idea you ever had at work to present as her own. Besides, in whom will you confide that this friend is overstepping bounds, since you share the same circle of friends, and she's the one to whom everyone flocks to for advice, invitations, to feel as if they count (she included me, therefore I am).

No wonder you find yourself recalling the more successful days with this friend, reluctant to conjure up the lesser hours, or the most recent effrontery, the one that has set you spinning. After all, not only are you jeopardizing life as you know it, but the breakup represents failure, loss, second guessing, and a void. What gnaws at you is the need to separate and a belief that the friendship is fundamentally unhealthy.

That's when it's best to face yourself, and decide if you're brave enough to let go of the deep, if flawed, attachment. Because chances are that this old friend will unnerve you in some way at every stage of life. On the other hand, it is only when you have hit your threshold that you can ask the questions: if I let go of this old friend,will there be an onslaught of remorse? And what about that tug at your heart when her name next comes up-no matter the peace of mind that exists in the interim periods.

 
 
 

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